Blueberry pick bucket food safety practices on your farm

Properly handling and storing blueberry pick buckets is extremely important in order to minimize bacterial growth.

Photo from MSU Extension video, “Blueberry-Specific Food Safety.”

Most growers already know the basics of food safety, like how to wash their hands or have farm workers report to their supervisor if they’re sick or injured. There are certain matters to keep in mind, however, that are particular to blueberries. This is especially true when it comes to pick buckets.

Many people don’t realize just how small bacteria really are. In fact, over 500,000 bacteria can fit on the point of a pin. Only about 1,000 bacteria are needed to make someone sick, meaning you could make 500 people sick with what can fit on that pinpoint.

Unlike a lot of other things that make people sick, bacteria can reproduce and grow out in the environment. Bacteria reproduce by splitting in half. This kind of reproduction can make a small problem very large very quickly.

There are so many places these bacteria can hide, too. One big area where these bacteria can hide is on the insides of buckets. Properly handling and storing pick buckets is extremely important in order to minimize this bacterial growth.

Buckets may be set on the ground then picked up and nested after being dumped. That means that whatever was on the bottom of one bucket now ends up being inside the bucket it’s nested in.

If full buckets are placed on the ground, those little tiny bacteria can get on the bucket. Just through natural use, there’s a pretty good chance they could make their way in the bucket. This is why it’s a good idea not to put buckets on the ground in the first place.

There are several different ways you can handle buckets between fillings. You can stagger, rather than nest buckets, or you can wipe each bucket down in between loads. You can also use plastic bags inside the buckets as long as the plastic bags are stored in a place where they won’t get dirty. While these alternative practices may seem tedious or time consuming, they are very important to keeping the dirt and bacteria outside of the bucket, and the berries that are picked clean inside the bucket.

For a more in-depth look at blueberry-specific food safety practices, Michigan State University Extension has put together the short video below. The video is also available in Spanish.

If you have specific questions about the Produce Safety Rule or have difficulty tailoring GAPs to your farm, you are welcome to contact the Agrifood Safety Work Group at or 517-788-4292.

Funding for this article was made possible, in part, by the Food and Drug Administration through grant PAR-16-137. The views expressed in the written materials do not necessarily reflect the official policies if the Department of Health and Human Services; nor does any mention of trade names, commercial practices or organization imply endorsement by the United States Government.

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